Web design is changing at an increasingly fast pace with new technologies such as HTML5 and CSS3 coupled with the proliferation of video, social media integration, improved tracking tools and much more.
The latest websites are more attractive, engaging and in tune with the latest Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) techniques and at a fraction of the cost.
This is all good news for small businesses that want to punch above their weight with a professional, big business online presence. Not so good if you have recently made that big investment in a new website.
So with this in mind, what should you do if you are a small business owner?
1. Pay-as-you-go – try before you pay and no contract
Look for a provider that offers pay-as-you-go services with no contract and no upfront fees. That means you try before you buy on a month-to-month basis.
There are a number of new companies delivering beautiful websites fully featured with content editing, sales tools and reporting. Their cloud technology enables them to deploy websites quickly and cost-effectively.
It keeps companies honest and working hard for you if they know you can leave at any time. They will innovate and improve continually to keep your business.
2. All-in-one service – everything you need to run your site
Choose a service with all-inclusive pricing to avoid any surprises. It should include hosting, maintenance, domain name, amends, redesigns, upgrades, etc.
The initial cost of building a website pales in comparison to the ongoing costs – ie. hosting, maintenance, content management, redesigns, SEO, reporting, etc.
In addition, make sure you get all the sales tools, search engine optimisation and reporting/analytics as part of the initial package.
Ultimately, you want to manage all aspects of your website and marketing without having to incur additional costs.
3. Design quality – up-to-date and unlimited re-designs
Web designs go stale and appear outdated very quickly. What seems like a great-looking website today may not be in six months.
Agencies typically charge you for each redesign plus the implementation. You could negotiate future redesigns but that could be expensive.
Another option is to find a service that allows you to switch from one design to another painlessly.
bOnline customers for example can transfer all their content into a new design with a simple click. No content is lost and even search rankings are not affected as the underlying code (html) remains the same.
With hundreds of design themes launched each month, bOnline allow their customers to upgrade or refresh their websites as often as they wish.
4. Incremental approach – launch early then improve it
When I started Euroffice 12 years ago, the cost to build a website ranged from Sapient’s £3 million proposal to a £20,000 quote from a small web consultancy.
We went with the latter, launched early with a simple website and spent the following years re-launching every six months with improvements.
In hindsight, it was the right decision. Many of our rivals outspent us with complicated initial websites. Today, Euroffice is Europe’s biggest online office supplies company with few of its rivals still around.
Years later, I did the same with my next start up XLN Telecom and now with bOnline, we are soon on our third website in 12 months.
Keep it simple, launch early, then worry about collecting customer feedback for improvements. Complicate things and risk ending up with a late and obsolete website.
5. Online marketing – should not be an afterthought
A beautiful website is only useful if it can be found.
It is important that your website comes heavily Search Engine Optimised (SEO) with tools to help you further improve your ranking.
Some services will include powerful tools such as SEO Wizard with step-by-step instructions, check lists and alerts to help you progressively improve your search ranking from beginner to advanced levels.
Content Management Systems (CMS) also play an important role in SEO. Search engines favour content that is relevant and updated regularly. A good CMS will make it easy for you to keep your content up-to-date.
Once you start attracting visitors, you will also need good reporting/analytics to understand where your visitors are coming from.
All this needs to be built-in as part of the Website service or you will pay dearly if you need to buy or integrate tools as an afterthought.